JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Circuit Judge Russell Healey on Friday denied a defense motion that would have kept hours of calls Michael Dunn made from jail and other evidence gathered in his murder trial from release to the media.
"This Court now orders that the witness information and jail calls be made available to the public," Healey wrote.
Dunn is accused of killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis in the parking lot of a Gate convenience store the day after Thanksgiving 2012. Dunn complained about loud music from Davis' SUV, and told police he fired into the vehicle in which Davis was a passenger when he thought he saw a gun.
Jury selection for Dunn's second-degree murder trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 3. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Last year, prosecutors released letters Dunn wrote from jail while awaiting trial and other material investigators had gathered in the case.
Healey complained he didn't know the letters were being released and was worried they could taint the potential jury pool. He then said he would review all material before it could be released in the future. Attorneys for WJXT and other media outlets appealed that decision and the First District Court of Appeals ordered Healey to hold a hearing on the defense motion to block the release of this evidence.
During a hearing Tuesday on this motion and a second request to delay the trial, prosecutors sided with Dunn's attorney, Cory Strolla, in asking that the discovery material -- evidence gathered that might or might not be used in the case -- not be made public.
Channel 4's attorney, Ed Birk, argued the calls should be released, but State Attorney Angela Corey said that would interfere with her case.
The judge sided with public access.
"We won the important legal point, which is access to these records before trial is guaranteed under the law," Birk said.
After Friday's ruling, Strolla issued this statement:
"Even though we still stand firm that the Court could have taken judicial notice of the prejudicial pretrial exposure in this case and grant the protective order, we still feel that the Pretrial coverage has been unfairly biased against Michael Dunn, and not representative of the actual truth.
"We look forward to having Mr. Dunn exonerated at trial when the facts do come to light, not the preconceived opinions that have been portrayed thus far."
Corey's office only said: "We have received the order. We are reviewing it, and will comply with the order."
The State Attorney's Office estimates it would take nine to 10 weeks for employees to go through the material to redact names, addresses phone numbers and other private information before it could be released, and the cost to the media would be over $6,000.
"We won't get the tapes before trial, but we made the legal point," Birk said. "It should not have to go that way. The station and other news media should not have had to spend thousands of dollars to preserve the right to this access for public records, which is in the law."
Late Friday afternoon, attorneys for the Florida Times-Union and WTLV/WJXX filed an emergency appeal asking the court to direct the state attorney's office to release the jail calls immediately.
They contend the state attorney's office completed its review of the jail calls in November, and for it to say it won't start the redacting process now until there's a deposit of $3,000 is "unconscionable" and a "direct flagrant contravention" of the appeals courts order.
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